Mr. Mitsubishi is in town to say thank you. Osamu Masuko, chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors since last June, has arrived at Heathrow and will soon head 100 miles west down the M4 to the headquarters of his UK importer in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, to congratulate bosses and staff on a key role in establishing the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV as Europe’s best-selling electric car.
The Outlander PHEV’s success, Masuko admits, is a considerable surprise. When the Outlander first hit the market last year, it caught a freakish groundswell of interest in SUVs and plug-in hybrids that encouraged the local importer to take a bold but well-informed gamble and place an uncharacteristically large forward order.
Customers came running. The result was a mighty upswing in 2014 volume that has increased further this year. First-half UK sales easily beat 7000 units, more than doubling those of the Nissan Leaf and beating the BMW i3 six to one. “I am here to thank everyone,” says Masuko-san, “and also to make it clear that we have high expectations for the future.” It’s a familiar message to those who are successful in business: bigger sales breed bigger targets.
The UK strength has already added lustre to Mitsubishi’s recently announced plan to build a five-strong range of green, mostly plug-in SUVs by 2020, which Masuko obligingly sketches for me on paper.
This is Mitsubishi’s future, he believes, now that battery costs are falling as efficiency rises. Others are reading the same signs, however, and Masuko sees the next phase as coping with increasing competition. “We know a fight is coming,” he says, “but the fact that the technology is spreading fast is very positive. It will become a major technology for the future, not a novelty. By 2020 European CO2 regulations will be much tougher, but we already have one car to answer the new regs and more coming. This is our strength.”
Masuko says Mitsubishi’s pre-eminence in PHEV technology is already lifting its brand image. “Some of our new customers are quite different from our traditional buyers,” he notes. “They are coming from premium cars, which means we’re expanding our target customer base.”